CORNELIUS, N.C. — As elementary-school friends in Charlotte, Elise Redmond and Kristi Crates enjoyed the annual cookie-exchange parties their families held during the end-of-year holidays.
As adults, the life-long friends kept up the tradition.
And in 2007, when Crates was dying of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and Redmond promised to continue hosting the parties, Crates suggested “we do something for other people and make a charity out of it,” Redmond says.
The result is Cookies 4 a Cause, a charity Redmond founded in 2007 that encourages people throughout the U.S. to host cookie parties to raise money for charity.
She also created The Divas in the Kitchen, a for-profit company that sells items like bottle-cap necklaces and apron sets and donates the proceeds to Cookies 4 a Cause.
“When Kristi died, and I was in the room, I looked at her mother and I said, ‘For the rest of my life, I will spread Kristi’s message of helping other people,'” Redmond says. “Kristi spent her whole life helping other people.”
Doing charity work full-time is a big change for Redmond, who practiced law for 16 years after graduating from the University of Georgia and the law school at Mercer University.
After working for four years at Kilpatrick Stockton in Charlotte and then five years at Katten Muchin in Washington, D.C., she spent three years as assistant general counsel at Bank of America in Charlotte.
Most recently, she worked for two years at Nelson Mullin in Charlotte, handling structured finance for commercial real estate transactions.
Now, with two small children, Redmond is up every morning at 4 a.m., sending and responding to email messages about Cookies 4 a Cause and The Divas in the Kitchen until 9 a.m.
A new product she is marketing is a “hot-top” necklace made of bottle caps that can be customized with an organization’s name or logo.
A woman in Texas assembles and packages the necklaces for The Divas in the Kitchen, which markets them to nonprofits, schools and businesses.
The first week of March, for example, Redmond’s business partner met with an organization that holds four conventions a year that each attracts 20,000 people to ask if she could sell the necklaces at the conventions.
Divas also has pitched the idea to United Way of Central Carolinas, Ronald McDonald House of Charlotte, national sororities and a catalog company that sells physical-therapy equipment.
In the first two months since launching the product, The Divas in the Kitchen have sold 2,000 necklaces to nearly 20 groups, which in turn sell them at events.
“The profit we make goes back to Divas to buy new inventory and make donations to Cookies 4 a Cause,” Redmond says.
Divas generates several thousand dollars a year for Cookies 4 a Cause, which has given a total $10,000 to local and national charities.
Redmond plans to grow that effort.
“This is a lifetime journey,” she says. “I am going to spend the rest of my life continuing what Kristi did, but in a different way.”